Social workers: What to think, where to stand, on the war in Ukraine?

Conversations with fellow social workers about the war in Ukraine suggests that beyond the obvious need for humanitarian relief, confusion reigns. While Russia’s decision to invade its sovereign neighbor nation seems clearly wrong, an indefensible act of aggression, so seems the quick-and-easy conclusion offered 24/7 by mainstream media – i.e., that autocratic (and perhaps “unhinged”) Putin is the new Hitler, bent on imperial domination of the world, while the U.S. and NATO-backed Ukrainians are simply pure and patriotic defenders of national and global democracy. Social workers know that nothing springs from a vacuum; everything – not least of all matters of politics and war – springs from complex (and oftentimes highly perplexing) contexts.

I surely will not try to unpack any of the complexity of Russian-Ukrainian historical relations (trust me, those relations are deep in every significant dimension – political, economic, cultural, linguistic….). I will, rather, recommend that social workers might well use the conclusions of the Las Alamos Study Group as a starting point for reflection and discussion. Here are a few of the suggestions that should make sense to members of our profession:

  • Russia has frequently-voiced security concerns which must be understood and taken seriously if there is any hope for a lasting peace. NOTE: Understanding these concerns is not condoning the Russian attack.
  • A negotiated peace, in place as soon as possible, is the objective, and peace is never achieved by telling either the aggressor or the victim what they “must” do. Words directed at both Russia and Ukraine should be aimed at de-escalation, and take special care not to inflame the situation. Certainly, sending additional arms to Ukraine is a very bad idea, as it will only extend the conflict, resulting in continuing death and destruction.
  • Economic sanctions against Russia should be lifted. Sanctions are far more damaging to the people of the countries on which they are imposed than on their leaders.
  • The protection of human rights – an early and regular casualty of all wars, with atrocities committed by all parties to violent conflict – should be highlighted in all discussions and negotiations.
  • NATO should quit maintaining that Ukraine may one day join the alliance. This position lies at the heart of Russia’s security concerns about being encircled by hostile powers, and will never be tolerated by any Russian nationalist leadership (i.e. antipathy toward NATO is not simply Vladimir Putin’s personal mad obsession).

You can read a fuller summary of the group’s argument here –

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